Veterans home details emerge
by DAVID DAVIS, Managing Editor
Mar 01, 2013 | 1914 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Southeast Tennessee Veterans Home Council co-Chair Cid Heidel points to the property as he and Bradley County Commissioner Jeff Morelock discuss the proposed veterans home Thursday evening during a public hearing in the Bradley County Courthouse. The purpose of the hearing was to review the environmental assessment of the property at 1940 Westland Drive. Banner Photo, DAVID DAVIS
Southeast Tennessee Veterans Home Council co-Chair Cid Heidel points to the property as he and Bradley County Commissioner Jeff Morelock discuss the proposed veterans home Thursday evening during a public hearing in the Bradley County Courthouse. The purpose of the hearing was to review the environmental assessment of the property at 1940 Westland Drive. Banner Photo, DAVID DAVIS
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Although only a handful of local residents attended a public hearing Thursday evening to review the Draft Environmental Assessment for the proposed veterans home in Cleveland, the gathering was filled with details about the planned facility.

The Chattanooga office of Thompson Engineering prepared the Draft Environmental Assessment and found the site suitable for the project. The public comment period ends March 8. The DEA is available on the Bradley County website at www.bradleyco.net and the VA services office in the Bradley County Courthouse.

Tennessee State Veterans Homes Plant Operations Director Taylor Wyrick said the plan is for a 108-bed facility on approximately 30 acres at 1940 Westland Drive. The future home would be approximately 98,000 square feet, offering intermediate and skilled levels of nursing care for local veterans.

The actual facility, access roads and parking footprint would occupy approximately 10 acres on the tract of property donated by Steve Williams, Thomas Williams and Robert Wright.

Wyrick is hopeful of breaking ground in Cleveland sometime between October 2015 and June 2016. It was originally hoped construction would begin in 2014.

The delay is because a home in Montgomery County is next in line. Wyrick expects to begin construction there in July. The projected timeline includes 14 to 16 months to build it and another 18 months to get it certified under Medicare and other agencies.

“Not just to get it certified, but our team will be involved in the startup of that facility and won’t be able to work on this one. If we split our forces, we’re not as effective, so we need time to make sure the Montgomery County facility is successful before moving our resources over to another project,” he said.

Wyrick pointed out the veterans home system is experiencing growing pains “and the more you try to do, the worse the pains. We’re trying to eliminate the pains by pacing ourselves.”

The state agency charged with operating the three existing homes in Knoxville, Murfreesboro and Humboldt must hire additional people in Clarksville and in the executive office in Murfreesboro.

Another reason for the delay in Cleveland is because the design has changed and cost has increased from the low $20 million range to the low $30 million range. Due to the cost increase, the state is resubmitting its application to the Veterans Administration sometime before April 15.

The federal government and local supporters share the cost of construction on a 65/35 percent basis. The federal share, based on the 2007 application, was $13.037 million. The city of Cleveland and Bradley County each committed $2.2 million and an anonymous donor pledged $3 million to cover the local share. With the new price tag, the local share increases an estimated $10 million to cover the difference. Under the new scenario, the cost share would be closer to 50/50 if the funds were accepted.

“We couldn’t accept federal funding next year because all of the items on the checklist have to be completed and we have to have the bids in for construction and ready to break ground before we’re actually eligible to receive those federal funds,” Wyrick pointed out.

He said the Lewis Group was selected to design the new home, but contracts won’t be signed until after July 1. The last half of 2013 and all of 2014 will be centered on refining the architectural drawings as the process advances though different states of development.

“You have program development, schematic development, design development and construction document stage. All of those steps are part of the design process,” he said.

The Montgomery County home in Clarksville will be the first of the duplex concept. Cleveland should be the second of the new type “and that’s another reason for the delay between opening buildings. Our model of operation won’t be the same as it is now. We have to learn a new way to run a home,” he said. “We’re very good at running the homes we have, but we have to develop those same skills to run community living centers at the same level.”

Wyrick said the delivery method of the home in Clarksville and Cleveland is changing from low-bid contractor to contract manager to oversee construction.

He said it would be perfect timing if the Cleveland home is funded in the 2014 cycle.